By Christine Dell'Amore
His name is Baghdad, because of the bullet scar in his ear. He lives in a national park in Gabon, and he's one of only 20 African forest elephants left on Earth whose tusks touch the ground, making him worth about a hundred thousand U.S. dollars—dead.
"That's a sad reflection on our planet," Lee White, head of Gabon's national park system, said Sunday at a meeting of the World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea, where conservationists are appealing for aid from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as African elephant populations plummet. (See blog posts from the congress.)
With international crime syndicates coveting more and more elephant ivory—a symbol of wealth in booming Asia—numbers of the mammal have fallen to "crisis levels," according to a June report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The highest rate of elephant poaching since a global ivory ban in 1989 occurred in 2011, with tens of thousands of the animals slaughtered, their ivory shuttled out of West and, increasingly, East African seaports enroute mainly to China but also to other Asian consumer countries such as Thailand.
About 472,000 to 690,000 African elephants—currently classified as vulnerable by IUCN—likely roam the continent today, down from possibly five million in the 1930s and 1940s.
On Wednesday, the IUCN Member Assembly will vote on three proposed motions to increase protection of African wildlife targeted for illegal killing, particularly elephants and rhinoceroses.
One of the motions, sponsored by the Game Rangers Association of Africa, would lend aid to park rangers, some of whom are being killed by well-armed poachers.
Dozens of rangers have been killed this year in Africa, including 15 in the Kenya Wildlife Service alone.
"We're going into a phase now where we're basically at war," White said. "We're shifting from biologists being out in these parks to military people being out there." More....